What is Buyer Representation?
I am told that in days gone by, contracts were written on the hood of the agent's car and little more than a handshake could seal a deal. We all know that those days are gone. Now we have a 37 page contract full of addendums, contingencies and special conditions but because of these lengthy legal documents, and because of buyer representation, you're much less likely now than in the past to purchase with the warning of "buyer beware".
So what IS buyer representation? Simply stated it's having an agent, YOUR agent, working in your best interest to get you the lowest possible price and the best possible terms when purchasing a home. In addition, your agent won't disclose to the seller or the seller's agent any confidential information you may discuss. For instance, if you are pre-approved for a $200,000 purchase but you'd rather stay at the $150,000 range, your agent will never disclose that you can afford to pay more than you've offered.
If your agent is a good one, he/she will help you find the home that best suits your needs, wants and lifestyle and still falls within your financial comfort zone. Your agent will write and explain a contract with which you feel comfortable, explain and be there for you through the process of inspections, financing and settlement. He/She will return calls in a timely manner AND not answer other calls when they're with you . They'll stay in touch before, during and after the sale. If at any time you find you've hired an agent with whom you don't feel comfortable or one who isn't representing your best interests - fire him! Every buyer-broker agreement has an "escape clause". Real the document and do whatever it takes to get out of the relationship.
IMPORTANT - The real estate agent listed on the For Sale sign or listed in the ad, by law, CANNOT represent you as the buyer. That agent is bound by law and by ethics to represent the seller - to get the seller the highest and best deal they possibly can. Think about it, how can the agent on the sign do that for the seller and still work to get you the lowest price? So what's the solution? Find an agent who you like and trust and stick with them. I can't stress this enough. If your agent knows you're dealing exclusively with them, they'll work harder for you and feel that they have an obligation to do so.
Recently, a friend I've had since high school (we won't say how long that's been) listed her home for sale with another agent. As you can imagine I was surprised and a little hurt. When I talked to her, however, she said, "Lauren, this is a person we've worked with over the years long before you were a Realtor. We like and trust her to represent our best interests". When I heard that I understood. Loyalty is good as long as you're being loyal to an agent who will truly make you his/her priority.
That brings me to another topic. How about doing business with friends and relatives who are Realtors? Not a problem as long as they are representing you well and in a business-like manner. All too often, however, friends and relatives seem to give less attention to your needs thinking that the personal relationship saves them from having to be professional.
During the latter part of 2003 I represented a couple who had a relative in real estate. When I asked why they didn't go to the relative the response was, "she's a really nice person but she is only a part-time agent and we're not sure how well she keeps up with the industry. We need someone who will work for us, represent our best interests, full time."
My advice? If you wouldn't feel comfortable firing your Realtor if he/she didn't live up to the agreed-upon service standards, don't hire them in the first place. Could you fire your sister, your uncle, your girlfriend if they didn't perform? Yes? Then go ahead and hire them. If the answer is "no", then find someone with whom you can have a professional relationship, someone who will represent your best interests, someone you feel you can "let go" if your expectations aren't being met.